15 May 2014

Writing vs Wages

I’ve been writing regularly since high school: newspapers, magazines, radio news and documentaries, and a little bit of television. For a vast majority of those years, I earned enough money to do it full-time; for a smaller percentage of those years, I had to write while working an official job. (And, during all those years, no matter how successful I was at writing and earning a good living and winning awards, my mother would ask me: “When are you going to get a real job?”)

In the mid 1990s, I lost my regular newspaper gig. I ended up with a good job at a large corporation. Although not part of my official duties, they let me write for and occasionally edit the in-house publication and other communication materials. I continued doing freelance newspaper writing part-time. Before I knew it, I had been at the company fifteen years, earning a great salary and magnificent benefits.

Then, friends of mine, nearly my age, started to die -- suddenly. I was never one to question my own mortality; but I did start to think: if I died today, would I be happy with my legacy?

Despite decades of writing, the answer was a sound “no.” Even with all my professional writing, the works for which I had the most passion -- my novels -- were languishing. Who can work full time and still write novels? I tried and couldn’t make it work. So, I talked it over with my spouse and quit my secure, well-paying corporate job so that I could create the novels I needed to be happy.

My intent was to get a part-time job (twenty hours a week) and write the other twenty hours. That sounded fair and was financially doable. Of course, it took me more than a year to find a job I was interested in doing that would only require twenty hours a week. But before I found that job, I wrote like a fiend. I polished off two manuscripts and published them; I polished and published a handful of short stories; I turned a screenplay of mine into my third novel; and then embarked on my first “new” novel. That was followed by the first novel in a planned five-book series about a boy detective in 1930s Los Angeles. [You can see them all listed on the right hand side of this page.]

Now, I work three days a week and write two; that makes it pretty easy to shift gears between my (non-writing) part-time gig and my personal writing. I have a boss who not only supports my writing, but has also bought, read and enjoyed (she says) nearly all my novels. Sure, my salary is significantly lower than it was, and I get no benefits; but, I’m doing what I’ve always loved (writing), focusing on what’s really important to me now and actually creating a legacy that I would not be embarrassed to have represent me after I’m long gone.

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